Up until recently, the acronym ‘VOD’ (video on demand) has carried negative connotations. For a movie, it has often meant that it was benched, didn’t make the cut and relegated. VOD to most of us means minor leagues, scraping the barrel. Sadly it means Dolph Lundgren, sadly it is starting to mean Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s still the case – our old favourites are probably resigned to that kind of thing. But things are changing in entertainment and maybe we need to define two types of VOD, the good and the bad, or VOD and VODmit? Here is why the former is going to take over.
Netflix & Amazon
I keep getting Amazon and Netflix confused, but there’s a point to be made that streaming is moving from strength to strength and that both are starting to dominate. Many have said that home theatre could one day kill off cinema and that’s always been a bold assertion. But certain things are making me scratch my head and start wondering if they have a point.
Maybe the first big indicator came when Netflix and IMAX decided to distribute Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend exclusively and simultaneously through the streaming service and in IMAX theaters worldwide. Maybe it’s the fact that big moguls are now floating the idea of paying extra to see a movie at home, day one. Is it so hard to believe that VOD could overtake cinema?
Some of the best looking movies this year have been The Siege of Jadotville and Spectral. These were big budget movies, with (relatively) big and respected actors, but they had practically no cinematic presence.
Convenience & Comfort
Going to the cinema these days is increasingly being challenge by waiting it out and buying the movie for home viewing. You have to pay almost extortionate prices for beverages, often with what you’d like not being on sale. You have to put up cretin 14 year olds trying to steal the show and increasingly, you have to concede size for quality.
Contrast that with sitting at home.
You don’t have to stand in a waiting line, you have your own fridge and you family and friends are either already there or ready to easily join you. You have the best seat in the house, you have a pause button and you don’t have to wait until a ‘talky bit’ to hit the John.
Delayed start times don’t exist, nor do shitty adverts promoting local stores prior to the movie. Would it really be so bad to pay extra for day one VOD convenience for the most expensive movies? Will the studios really lose money?
The End Of Hard Media?
This year Sony decided to forego the inclusion of a UHD drive in their latest Playstation and it’s also impossible (as of now) to watch 4K UHD on a PC, any PC. The given excuse is that streaming is the future and judging by the budgets of Amazon and Netflix’s latest stuff, it certainly must be profitable.
Like or not, the business model that mos studios are pursuing is streaming only.
Up until now, two selling points for hard media have been lack of internet speed and higher quality. These are increasingly being challenge though. Acceptable internet speed is finding its way to more and more people and perhaps the best example of streamed quality catching up is Netflix’s Narcos.
Narcos looks as good as anything that has so far appeared on UHD Blu-Ray. Dare I say it, superior and it’s all streamed. This is account of new groundbreaking compression technology like HEVC that makes it harder for the reasonable eye to determine the difference in an upcompressed file and a compressed HEVC file. While some sticklers may still want no compromises, they’re going to find themselves taking a backseat to the masses.
To add pressure on Blu-Ray, Netflix has now enabled a download feature, so that you can watch something uninterrupted from network error from a hard drive.
Home Theater Technology Is Challenging Cinema
At one point nothing beat seeing a new movie on a big screen. These days, while living room technology may not beat the big screen, it’s certainly starting to rival it. I mean, take The Mechanic: Resurrection. It was good seeing that movie on a giant screen, but it’s something else to see it at home in 4K, with HDR.
In the old days, square 480p versus a giant screen with better sound was a no contest. Now, it’s quantity versus quality. Home screens more vibrant, with infinitely superior quality. And they’re getting bigger, with totally immersive sound like Dolby Atmos. We’re going to need a lot to keep cinema ahead of home theater in terms of quality. 8K will be needed to rival home 4K and so on.
But even now, there’s already talk of 8K home TV for the near future (read: probably a decade or less) and not even that, but glasses-free 3D 8K. How can anything compete with that, especially if the latest ‘must see’ movie is offered by Netflix, hour one on you own TV?
Cable TV Is Old Hat
Go over to Reddit and you’ll see an entire sub dedicated to ‘Cord Cutting’. This is the art of pulling the plug on dinosaur cable television. And for that matter, regular broadcast TV.
Why would anyone want to wait for a TV channel to decide when they want to air that movie or TV show you’re interested in? Especially if they’re charging you bullshit prices. Oh, the premiere is on Thursday? Fuck that, stream it now.
Yes, they’ve tried to counter is by offering their own content on demand but it is not exactly working out. Just this week, the biggest satellite provider in Europe was sold off. Even WWE is getting off the cable train, trying to make a tectonic move eventually entirely to streaming on demand.
And if some adults are stubborn and trying to stay there, the upcoming generation won’t care. These days, kids almost exclusively consume their entertainment from YouTube, they are the future and they are streamers.
However, there is a rebuttal to most of this…
Not So Fast…
There is a big problem with streaming on demand. Take the plan to offer new blockbuster movies at a cost on demand. Up until now, pirates would consume new movies from suspect camera sources, with terrible quality.
If movies were to mostly leave the cinema, piracy would increase as movies would be available on day one, on torrent sites, in the best quality available. The simple fact of the matter is that all it takes is one pirate with screen capturing software and big damage is done within the first 24 hours. Profits may suffer.
And while everyone enjoys greater internet speeds these days, we’re not at saturation point. If Blu-Ray ceased to exist, there’d be no point in someone in a rural area in a few years from now buying an 8K TV because even if he could download a new movie locally, it would be a pain in the ass all around.
There’s also a lot to be said about the community experience of going to the cinema, but you do have to wonder how long these points will remain valid…